The Braves have had made a charge up the standings over the past two weeks by beating up on the bottom of the MLB table but now will face a real challenge as they begin their next road trip.
Oh wait, no, it’s the Mets again.
The Braves had their nine-game winning streak ended on Sunday by the Diamondbacks but there is little reason that they shouldn’t start a new one with four games against the Mets and three against the Cubs. The series starts with a classic matchup between everything that is good in the world (Mike Minor) and the most annoying but not actually good pitcher possible (Daisuke Matsuzaka). Matsuzaka is a notoriously slow worker who has had some success since returning to the Mets' rotation this year. Matsuzaka primarily relies on his splitter and fastball but throws six different pitches in total. His control has been utterly atrocious this year, walking nearly six batters per nine innings. The Braves should wait Matsuzaka out and let him get himself in trouble. Matsuzaka has lucked his way to a 3.72 ERA via a low BABIP (.250) and unsustainable home run rate (3.7 percent). I believe his 4.72 xFIP gives a better indicator of what kind of pitcher he is and I expect the Braves to make him pay in game one of the series.
In game two, the Braves match-up first-time ALL-STAR Julio Teheran (that is a fun sentence) against Mets rookie Jacob deGrom. DeGrom was a ninth round pick of the Mets, who missed the entire 2011 season following Tommy John surgery. DeGrom came into 2014 ranked as the Mets' 10th best prospect by Baseball America and since making his major league debut has posted an identical 3.77 ERA and FIP. DeGrom has walked batters at a much higher rate in the majors than he did in the minors at nearly four per nine innings. Amazin’ Avenue described deGrom’s control as one of his best assets when he debuted so this is potentially concerning or a sign that he will be even more effective once he cuts down on that. DeGrom is a groundball pitcher whose best pitch is his sinker, though his four-seam fastball has been by far his most used pitch in the majors. DeGrom is a second-tier prospect who has had a solid start to his big league career but the Braves should have a major advantage with Teheran on the mound.
Game three features Dillon Gee making his return from the disabled list to face off against Ervin Santana. At the time of his injury, Gee had been the Mets' most effective starter though there is strong evidence Gee’s good start to 2014 was highly unsustainable. Gee has a 2.73 ERA in 2014 but has gotten there via an 85 percent left on base rate and a .226 babip. Gee is a career 3.78 ERA pitcher who has a career-worst strikeout rate in 2014. Gee had a 3.62 ERA in 2013 and this year has lowered his strikeout rate, lowered his grounball rate and raised his walk rate. Apparently fewer strikeout, more line drives, and more walks is the key to a career year. That or Gee will come off the disabled list and go right back to being the guy he has been most of his career. Gee is primarily a sinkerball, fastball, changeup pitcher and looks to induce groundballs at a high rate.
The final game of the series will be an intense matchup of the two pitchers in baseball who make the strongest argument for expansion of the designated hitter in Bartolo Colon and Aaron Harang. Colon is a 41-year-old starter who looks hilarious swinging at major league pitching but he has been decent this season mostly by not walking anyone. Colon is an innings eater who will throw strikes and not beat himself. Colon pitches to contact primarily by way of his sinker and fastball. He makes use of the occasional slider and even more rare changeup. I am excited for the game recap because a Colon-Harang pitching matchup has incredible upside in terms of possible pictures for the Talking Chop front page.
Daniel Murphy has randomly been the Mets most valuable position player according to Fangraphs. Murphy leads the NL in hits and was named to his first All-Star game on Sunday as the Mets sole representative. David Wright has had a very poor season at the plate by his standards with career lows in on base percentage and isolated power. Wright has been a league average offensive player which is a big blow to a Mets lineup not exactly stacked with ringers. Lucas Duda and Curtis Granderson have been the only Mets to provide power this year and Juan Lagares is a defensive stud who has been decent at the plate.
Overall, the Braves are clearly a better team than the Mets. How this difference will play out in the series is unpredictable but considering the way the Braves have been plowing through similar teams of late (including sweeping the Mets last week), I am pretty optimistic. The Nats don’t seem very interested in losing these days so it would be great to see the Braves continue to take care of business.